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Christmas

By Barbara Beltrami

What kind of a food columnist would I be if I didn’t write about Christmas cookies every December? And what kind of a Scrooge would you be if you didn’t bake or at least intend to bake Christmas cookies every year? There are times when tradition rules, when you do certain things because you’ve always done them, because your mother and before that your grandmother have always done them and to not do them would be sacrilege. And there is nothing like gathering the kids in the kitchen and making it a tradition that they’ll carry on when it’s their turn. 

So here are some uber traditional Christmas cookie recipes — three different versions — cut, pressed and dropped — of the sugar cookie. I have no idea where or when they originated. I just know they’ve been the go-to recipes in our family for years and years. All are wonderful on their own, particularly when surreptitiously snatched from the voluptuously mounded cookie platter, and they all go well with tea, coffee, milk, hot chocolate, eggnog or any holiday spirits.

Spritz Cookies (Pressed)

Spritz Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 6 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

2 sticks room temperature unsalted butter

2/3 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract

2½ cups flour

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 400 F. In a large bowl thoroughly combine butter, sugar, egg yolks and extract. Add flour and work in. Divide dough into quarters and place one quarter at a time into cookie press; using desired shapes, force dough onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 7 to 10 minutes until set but not brown. Cool on wire rack 30 minutes and decorate as desired.

Drop Sugar Cookies

Drop Sugar Cookies

YIELD: Makes about 3 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

2 eggs, beaten

2/3 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)

¾ cup sugar

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon coarse salt

DIRECTIONS:

Heat oven to 400 F. In large bowl, thoroughly combine eggs, oil, vanilla and lemon zest (if using); gradually add sugar and beat until mixture thickens. In another bowl, blend flour, baking powder and salt and incorporate mixture into first one. Drop by teaspoonfuls 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet, flatten each mound with bottom of glass dipped in sugar. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cool immediately on wire rack. Decorate as desired. 

Classic Sugar Cookie Cut Outs

YIELD: Makes 4 to 5 dozen

INGREDIENTS:

1½ cups confectioners’ sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 egg

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

DIRECTIONS:

In a large bowl thoroughly combine sugar, butter, vanilla and almond extracts and egg. In another bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cream of tartar; then stir that mixture into first one. Cover and refrigerate 4 hours or more. 

Heat oven to 375 F. Divide dough in half and roll out each half to ¼-inch thick on lightly floured cloth-covered surface. Cut cookies and place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake 7 to 8 minutes until light brown. Cool on rack 30 minutes, then decorate as desired. 

Gather unused dough into a ball and refrigerate or place in freezer to chill; then repeat roll out procedure. 

Stock photo

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

The conversation in a New Jersey classroom of first-graders got around to the subject of Christmas, and the substitute teacher unleashed a bombshell. She told them that Santa isn’t real, that parents just buy presents and put them under a tree. On a roll, she didn’t stop there. Reindeer can’t fly, she advised the students, elves are not real, the elf on the shelf is just a doll that parents move around, there is no tooth fairy and no Easter bunny, either. She summed up with the news that there is no magic anything and that magic doesn’t exist. Whoa!

This made the top of the news earlier this week for CBS, NBC, Fox, USA Today and other major news outlets. No one, as far as I know, has interviewed the children to get their reactions, but the school superintendent and the principal were moved to speak, as the district apologized to the parents.

Montville superintendent of schools, Rene Rovtar, was “troubled and disheartened by the incident.” Cedar Hill Elementary School principal, Michael Raj, sent home a message to the parents in which he mentioned the “poor judgment” of the teacher and asked parents to “take appropriate steps to maintain the childhood innocence of the holiday season.” At least one parent, Lisa Simek, took to Facebook, expressing dismay. She urged that Christmas magic is real and expressed through acts of kindness, love, positivity and grace — from and for loved ones and strangers. The superintendent added, “The childhood wonder associated with all holidays and traditions is something I personally hold near and dear in my own heart.”

We don’t know how the children reacted, but we certainly know how upset the adults are. And we have not been told if the teacher will be allowed to substitute again. How should we react to this?

On the one hand, we know that the idea of Santa Claus brings joy and excitement to children and therefore to the adults around them. This is hardly innocence exploited by adults but rather an opportunity for adults each to be Santa, to be their best, most generous, most loving selves. While the person of Santa is a fiction, the embodiment of all that Santa stands for most surely is not. Fictional characters can provide inspiration for the lifetime of a child as he or she grows up. Intergenerational mythmaking exists in many contexts, not only to entertain but also to inspire.

Children sooner or later catch on, especially when they see 20 Santas walking down the street together on their return from their Salvation Army posts. But on the other hand, how do children feel when they realize the adults around them have told them untruths? If they go to school expecting to believe what they are taught there, should the teacher acquiesce in mythmaking? For sure, this teacher handled the situation with poor judgment. It would have been far better for her and the children had she told them to ask their parents about the magic of Santa. For whatever reason, she did not do that.

How did you feel when, as a child, you learned that Santa was a story made up by the adults closest to you? Did you understand the greater good embodied in the concept or were you left to distrust on some level whatever those adults might subsequently tell you? Does misleading a child bring psychological questions into play?

It did not negatively affect Virginia O’Hanlon, who asked that question of her father when she was 8 years old in 1897. She said the answer inspired her for the rest of her long life. Her dad told her to write to The Sun, a prominent New York City newspaper, and added, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” The Sun’s hard-bitten, cynical editor, Francis Pharcellus Church, wrote the answer that turned into the most reprinted editorial over the next century in the English-speaking world: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

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Thousands of people were swept up in a wave of holiday cheer as the Port Jefferson Village played host to 23rd annual Charles Dickens Festival from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2.

A score of volunteers, all dressed up in mid-19th century garb including not a small amount of chimney soot, walked around the village shaking hands and singing carols as if straight out of Charles Dickens’ classic novel “A Christmas Carol.” Attendees had the opportunity to view the village’s festival of trees, make cookies and ornaments, participate in a gingerbread house contest, ice skate and watch several live music, theater and dance performances, all while walking through village streets with stores all dressed up in seasonal decorations.

The Heritage Center Trust hosted its 11th annual tree lighting Dec. 2 at Heritage Park in Mount Sinai, drawing a crowd of several hundred who were ready to celebrate the breakout of the Christmas season.

The Mount Sinai Middle School Jazz Choir led the crowd in classic Christmas carols before fire trucks of the Mount Sinai Fire Department drove in with lights flashing, delivering Santa himself to the expectant crowd.

After the tree lighting, attendees were able to eat fresh baked cookies and kids had the opportunity to sit on Santa’s lap and take pictures.

The annual tree lighting at Heritage Park has been a part of the Mount Sinai community since 2007, but Jaime Baldassare, who volunteers for the center trust, said the lighting was a staple in the community before the Heritage Center Trust was established, first being hosted at the post office and later at the Mount Sinai Fire Department building.

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce will light the tree on Dec. 1.

Centereach

The Centereach Civic Association invites the community to its annual tree lighting on the lawn of Capital One Bank, 2100 Middle Country Road, Centereach on Wednesday, Dec. 5 from 7 to 8 p.m. Enjoy caroling, hot cocoa, candy canes and a visit from Santa. Rain/snow date is Dec. 9 at 6 p.m. 

Cold Spring Harbor

Santa Claus will light the Christmas tree at the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery, 1660 Route 25A, Cold Spring Harbor on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. Cookies, tea and hot chocolate will be served. $10 suggested donation. Call 516-692-6768 for further information.

Holtsville

The Town of Brookhaven will host its annual tree lighting at the Holtsville Ecology Site, 249 Buckley Road, Holtsville on Friday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m. Enjoy entertainment, hot chocolate and character strolling while waiting for Santa to arrive by helicopter. Call 631-451-6100.

Kings Park

The Kings Park Chamber of Commerce will host a tree lighting at Veterans Plaza, 1 Church St., Kings Park on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4:30 p.m.

Lake Ronkonkoma

Celebrate with a tree lighting at Raynor Park, Ronkonkoma Ave., Lake Ronkonkoma on Dec. 2 from 2 to 4 p.m. Hosted by the Ronkonkoma Chamber of Commerce. Call 631-963-2796 for further details.

Mount Sinai

Heritage Park, 633 Mount Sinai-Coram Road, Mount Sinai invites the community to the annual lighting of its community tree on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 5 p.m. With hot chocolate, a performance by the Mount Sinai Middle School Jazz Choir and a visit from Santa. Call 631-509-0882.

Nesconset

Join the Nesconset Chamber of Commerce for its annual tree lighting at Gazebo Park, 127 Smithtown Blvd., Nesconset on Sunday, Dec. 2 from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Call 631-724-2543 for details.

Port Jefferson

Join Danford’s Hotel at Bayles Park on East Broadway in Port Jefferson for its 3rd annual tree lighting on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. Featuring live holiday music, hot chocolate and holiday cookies. Call 631-928-5200 for more information.

Port Jefferson Station

The Port Jefferson Station/Terryville Chamber of Commerce will hold its annual tree lighting at the Chamber Train Car, corner of Route 112 and Nesconset Highway, on Saturday, Dec. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. Enjoy holiday music, refreshments and a visit from Santa. Call 631-821-1313.

St. James

Enjoy holiday music, pictures with Santa and light the BIG tree on the great lawn of Deepwells Farm County Park, 2 Taylor Lane, St. James on Saturday, Dec. 1 at 4:30 p.m. Hosted by St. James Chamber of Commerce. Call 631-584-8510.

Stony Brook

Santa arrives at the Stony Brook Village Center, 111 Main St., Stony Brook on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m. atop the Stony Brook Fire Department’s 3000-light float for the annual tree lighting ceremony on the Village Green. Call 631-751-2244.

Wading River

East Wind Long Island, 5720 Route 25A, Wading River invites the community to its annual tree lighting with Santa at The Shoppes on Sunday, Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. Call 631-929-3500.

By Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky. Photo by Donna Newman

I like Christmas. There, I said it. This may be surprising for some people to hear from a rabbi, and it may be misinterpreted by others. But it’s true. I like the feeling of this time of year. I enjoy the songs, the lights, watching Charlie Brown and the Grinch and especially the sense of good will that exists.

I also like Hanukkah. I enjoy the gathering of family and friends, eating latkes (fried potato pancakes), lighting the Hanukkah menorah (9-branched candelabrum), playing dreidel (a spinning top game) and feeling a sense of warmth and light in the coldest, darkest time of the year.

But my enjoyment of both holidays does not mean that I see them in the same way. It does not mean that I view Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas. While I can enjoy aspects of both holidays, I am keenly aware of the need for both Christians and Jews to maintain a distinction between the two holidays, while also embracing a healthy respect for and appreciation of the practices of the other’s religion. And this begins, I am convinced, with a full understanding of what both holidays celebrate.

It is not for me to expound on the true meaning of Christmas. My Christian colleagues are much more equipped to do so. But I do know that the true religious significance of Christmas has little to do with trees and presents, songs and holiday foods. While these are lovely ways to enhance the enjoyment of a holiday, they should not replace the spiritual lessons taught.

By the same token, Hanukkah, which I am qualified to write about, is not about spinning tops, fried foods and gift giving, though these are all fun customs. It is about the story of a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, well over 2,000 years ago, winning the right to practice their religion freely, symbolized by the rededication of the holy Temple (“Hanukkah” means “dedication”). This episode has nothing to do with the true meaning of Christmas, and only happens to fall at the same season because it was common to hold festivals of light at this time of the year. Hanukkah is a stirring story of freedom, but it nonetheless remains a minor festival in the Jewish calendar. Its elevation to a level of such prominence is due solely to the fact that it is marketed to compete with Christmas from a commercial standpoint. And this speaks to a problem in our society in general, as well as presenting a challenge for Christians, Jews and all people of faith alike.

I address this issue to a general audience, rather than specifically to my congregation, because I believe that it is important for all people of faith, whatever their religion or heritage, to reclaim the true meaning of their holy days. Rather than falsely seeking to unite ourselves through the idol of materialism, focusing on the trappings of the various holidays, let us instead form a true bond with one another by each celebrating our respective holy days and recognizing their real significance. By doing so, we strengthen our own religious conviction and are then able to enjoy the beauty and teachings of other faiths without feeling that our own faith is undermined.

I, for one, am opposed to calling a Christmas tree a holiday tree. I am opposed to Christians feeling pressured to water down their religious beliefs because others may feel offended. But I am also opposed to anyone who mistakes proud displays of faith with the right to impose such faith on others. Celebrating Christmas, or any holy day, should be encouraged, as long as it is done with the understanding that we all choose to practice, or not practice, our faith in different ways.

Ironically, for me, Christmas helps reinforce the true message of Hanukkah, just as the true message of Hanukkah, I believe, strengthens the celebration of Christmas. We are so fortunate in our community and country to have the freedom to worship and celebrate freely. May we appreciate this freedom by expressing ourselves appropriately, while also embracing those of other faiths who choose to do the same, but in a different way. By so doing, we will truly find warmth and light at this season.

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky is a rabbi at Temple Isaiah in Stony Brook.

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Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Santa Parade Nov. 24 starting from Port Jeff train station and running all the way down Main Street. Kids raced after candy thrown from vehicles and greeted Santa as he arrived while members of both the Marchand School of Dance and Shine Dance Studios showed off their routines to the sounds of classic Christmas tunes. Casts of “The Nutcracker” from the Harbor Ballet Theatre and “A Christmas Carol” from Theatre Three showed up in costume as well.

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Santa visits Stony Brook via helicopter in the 1950s.

Santa Claus will make his annual journey from the North Pole to drop off gifts to kids around the world this weekend, but before he does that, take a look back at a visit he paid to Stony Brook in the 1950s.

Ditching his sleigh for a helicopter, Santa landed on the Stony Brook Village Green and proceeded to the Stony Brook Fire Department to greet children.

A child receives a present from Santa Claus at the Christmas Magic event on Dec. 6. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

Once again the holiday and Christmas season is upon us. For Christians, this is a season of hope. If we’ve ever needed hope it is right now.

The political landscape around the world is explosive. Violence, hate and human exploitation seem to be everywhere. At home, although economic prosperity is growing, respect for human rights and the diversity of people is at an all-time low.

Our elected leadership, at every level starting with Washington, is scandalously lacking. Our human discourse is a disgrace. It is a sad day in America when people with differing viewpoints have to deteriorate to name-calling and ad hominem attacks because they have differing opinions. What happened to rigorous debate ending in agreeing to respectfully disagree and remain friends?

This holiday season we have been painfully reminded of the abuse of power and the abuse and misuse of human beings especially the human exploitation, abuse and harassment of women.

What are we teaching our children? What life lessons are they learning? What happened to leading by example? It is shameful that those elected to public office have remained painfully silent when it comes to the disgraceful and abusive behavior especially from those who possess the ultimate power.

Despite all of this, we still celebrate the season of hope — the hope that change and transformation are possible; the hope that in most human beings there is a reservoir of compassion and goodness. I am fortunate in the midst of all this chaos to witness every day the magic of Christmas-simple, ordinary wounded people reaching out and touching others with love and goodness.

For more than three decades I have lived among the most broken among us. I continue to stand in awe as I watch these young men change and transform their lives and others.

Over 30 years ago, a young lawyer named Charlie Russo founded an organization, Christmas Magic, to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas for his children. Never did he think all these years later that a simple organization would ultimately become a powerful not-for-profit outreach that touches thousands of young children in our bi-county shelter system each Christmas.

It has also become a wellspring for thousands of volunteers who share their love at this time of year. It is a concrete reminder for all of us of what the real reason for the season is. Russo’s powerful example is an inspiration to all those who are privileged to know him.

Every year the residents of Hope House with whom I live participate voluntarily in Christmas Magic. To witness firsthand these wounded young men reaching out to the poorest of the poor among our children is a powerful life lesson.

Seeing these struggling young people interacting with little children, holding their hands, watching the children open up their Christmas presents from Santa, seeing the tears in their eyes as these little ones say thank you is probably among the best Christmas presents for which one could hope.

So despite a nation that has lost its way and a government that seems narcissistic, this is still the season of hope. The real miracle of Christmas is things can get better if you believe! I do believe! This holiday season let hope become the anthem of your soul!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Three Village residents were treated to a local holiday favorite Dec. 10 as the Three Village Holiday Electric Parade traveled down the streets of East Setauket. The parade kicked off at 5 p.m. with a variety of vehicles and floats adorned with lights that added a festive feel to the chilly night. Presented by the Three Village Kiwanis Club, the event featured floats from students from the Three Village Central School District and the participation of Scout troops and various businesses and organizations from the area, including Shine Dance Studios and North Shore Jewish Center. Cheerleaders, pep squad members, athletes and Stony Brook University mascot Wolfie also participated. After the parade, families gathered at the Kiwanis Park next to Se-Port Deli for the chance to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, who arrived in a train replica decorated with colorful lights.

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